John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
It would be good for us to see ourselves in Jonah’s plight, and to realize that in him we have a picture of ourselves. Indeed, that is why God includes books such as this book of Jonah in Holy Writ. We too are sinners, and we disobey God and trample under foot His commands in so many different ways. We err greatly if we with pride look down on Jonah, as though we would never do a thing like that, or never did anything as bad as what he did. In fact we do ourselves a great deal of good when we take into consideration the fact that many of our sinful deeds are worse than his, because we have so much richer a manifestation of the truth, one that far exceeds what Jonah had. We have the whole Bible for our guide. We have the mystery revealed to us that was hid through the whole Old Testament dispensation (Ephesians 1:9-12). We do not live in the day of shadows, but we live in the day when the Spirit has been poured out; and we understand God’s covenant promises in a way that Jonah could not. When we sin today, we often make Jonah’s sin look tame.
You never fled from God’s presence? You never failed to do what He called you to do? In Jonah’s day God’s presence was in the promised land of Canaan. There He revealed Himself and dwelt symbolically in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. .Today His presence is in His house on the Sabbath. There He speaks to us through the preaching of the Word. And you never fled from that preaching? Even when physically sitting in the audience, you never went to sleep, or fled in your thoughts from the preaching? You never arranged a vacation, a trip, a pleasure for your flesh that took you away from His presence? And during the week, how close do you live to God’s Word? You open the Scripture every day, and consider listening to what God has to say as more important than eating that meal, making that dollar, keeping an engagement that will please your flesh? You come before His presence in prayer, when you are about to eat in a public place where the eyes of unbelievers will see you? You do not necessarily need to take a ship to flee from God’s presence. We ought to hang our heads in shame, rather than proudly look down on Jonah as such an exceptional sinner.
Do we really have as much zeal for God’s cause, for His covenant people, and the kingdom of Christ, as Jonah did? Do not minimize his sin. But appreciate the fact that he was concerned about God’s covenant promises as given to Abraham, and fulfilled almost exclusively among Abraham’s seed, and in the promised land. We are privileged to see a broader, richer picture of God’s covenant, and that we also are His covenant people. But does it bother us as much as it did Jonah, when it looks as though the church is in danger of being swept away by the world, and taken over by the false church?
Consider yourself once, sinking down to death and the grave in the awareness that you have not been faithful in many ways, as one of God’s covenant people. Let your whole life flash before you, and you see that you have but a minute or two before you come to stand before the God from Whose presence you have fled so often. Yes, it will do you good to stand in Jonah’s shoes. The jaws of death were about to open, so that he would be swallowed up by his watery grave.
God saved him from that grave the last fraction of the minute, before those jaws of death would have opened and swallowed him. In His mercy, as that God of great kindness, God kept Jonah from physical death, and worked in him repentance. His soul had fainted. He saw no hope of escaping death in whose presence he now stood, rather than in God’s presence, from which he fled. He did not know that God would send a fish and spare his life. But in the last fearful moment before death would swallow him up, God caused him to remember Jehovah; and from out the depths he cried to God. That prayer came in to God in His holy temple; and a great fish swallowed him up, instead of death, and Jonah had continued life. He was saved, and out of the belly of that fish he now utters his prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God.
This was possible because of that of which Jonah was only a type. Because God’s Son, with our sins upon Him, by God’s sovereign grace, was buffeted by the billows and waves of God’s wrath against our sins, was not saved from death and the grave, and through His obedience and suffering all of our everlasting punishment, Jonah and we have salvation. He was in His grave three days and three nights, but went through these to everlasting glory, paving the way for us. Now we need have no fear ai we face death, for through it we will be ushered into God’s presence in a way more wonderful than any such experience in this life.
But we must not stop there. We are so prone to think of salvation only in terms of from what our flesh will escape, and in terms of what our bodies are going to enjoy. And, sad to say, much of what today is called gospel preaching and evangelism tries to get men to accept Christ for such joys and wonders. They preach a “gospel” that even the devil, and the fallen angels, together with the worst sinners, can want and eagerly accept.
But wait a minute. All this is surely part of our salvation. Our sins are blotted out. Our guilt is gone. And then the punishment we deserve is something that we will never have to suffer. But God does far more, as He did to Jonah. He saves us from the power and the love of sin. Our souls need salvation as well as our bodies. And was not the first promise God gave us, the first preaching of the gospel in paradise, that God would make us hate sin, and that the head of Satan would be crushed, so that we escape completely from his power?
That is oh so necessary; and the escape from the curse and suffering pain and torment in hell can never be ours without that salvation from the love and power of sin. The author in Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Jonah was walking in unholiness. He was clearly under the power of Satan. And he must not simply be delivered from that watery grave, and from God’s wrath in hell. No, he must be brought to remember the Lord, as he himself states it in his prayer to God. Jonah, as well as we, must be saved not simply from the guilt of sin, together with its punishment. We must be saved from the power and love of sin. We are not saved, in the first place, for our own good. We are saved for the glory of God, are saved so that we may serve, praise, and glorify God, as is our calling. So much preaching today wants to tell us to smile because God loves us. It does not teach that we must love God. It tries to get man to accept Christ for fleshly advantages, for his own good. Salvation from the punishment of sin is the whole story. Salvation from the power and love of sin, to be freed completely from Satan’s power, to be able to serve God with heart, soul, mind, and strength is but a fringe benefit. Escape the fire of hell, and you have it made!
All this is putting the cart before the horse. Had Jonah died in his sin, he would have cried everlastingly in hell, the place of torment and of God’s holy wrath. But in His grace God made him remember Him, and to cry for mercy. That was not a work for which Jonah could pat himself on the back. God made him remember. Does Jonah not clearly say, “Salvation is of the Lord”? Did it not flash before his mind that his only hope was that this God of great kindness could and does save?
Yes, this God is the Lord, as the KJV has it. But the Hebrew is much more powerful. For it states, “Salvation is of Jehovah.” He is the I am, the Sovereign One, the Unchangeable One, the Almighty One, the Self-sufficient One, the Independent One. Who could save you more assuredly than He? Where is there salvation outside of Him? Jehovah is His covenant name. It is the name which He gave Moses, when he asked Whom he should tell the covenant people had sent him to come and deliver them from Pharaoh (Exodus 3:13, 14). In that name God reveals Himself as our Savior in Christ. Do not forget that the name Jesus is a contraction of Jehovah is Salvation. He was not yet come in our flesh. When He came, He received that name, “For He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). But He was foreshadowed in the Old Testament in that name of God, namely Jehovah. That was His name in the day of shadows. Jonah who saw himself ready to enter into the belly of the grave, to face the Almighty God of heaven and earth, remembered that He is Jehovah, the covenant God of His people. When his soul fainted, God Who saves made him remember that He is the God of grace with wonderful covenant promises. And He made Jonah cry from the belly of hell to his covenant God.
Sad to say, the tendency in most preaching today is to deny Jonah’s words. In most of the preaching, salvation is not of the Lord, that is, all of our salvation is not from Him. In most of the so-called evangelism there is a condition that man must fulfill. Man must save himself to a “small” degree. And if he does, then God will do the rest. Man must first save himself from his unbelief, fulfill the condition of believing. He must take the first step of sanctification, and then God will do the rest of that sanctification and grant the justification that Christ realized on the cross. Even worse, you heard it, you can be a born again Christian, if you will only ask for it. The rebirth is yours for the asking. But you must ask. You are not alive yet spiritually, but you can do what no child ever did or could do: you can ask for a birth. Salvation is of the Lord, if you will let Him. He is Jehovah, the I Am. But you are too, and it depends upon you as to whether He is going to save you or not.
No! No! A thousand times NO! Salvation is of the Lord. All of it. The fact that you desire it also came from him. Paul told the Philippian jailer that if he believed, he would be saved. That was not a condition that the jailor had to fulfill. From his desire for salvation it was evident that he already had the beginning of salvation worked in him; and therefore he could be sure that his sins were blotted out, and that he would be saved from the lake of fire when he died.
You see, salvation reveals itself in the act of believing. In fact, it reveals itself in the desire for salvation. Salvation is one hundred percent, completely, entirely from the Lord. That includes the desire for it, and the faith that His Son took away our guilt by His cross, and by His Spirit makes us want to be saved from the power and love of sin.
We must not put our work before God’s. We must see that our faith, our desire for salvation, our sorrow over sin reveals that salvation has already been begun in us by God. The desire for salvation and the prayer to God for salvation are the fruit of a salvation already begun in us. We must see that also as God’s work. Scripture in Ephesians 2:1 teaches us that we are dead in trespasses and sins. Paul tells us in Romans 8:8 that we cannot please God. Now surely dead men do not ask for salvation, nor do they know what it is. And believing in God’s Son pleases Him. But if, or better, since before being born again we cannot please Him, we cannot believe or ask Him for salvation until He has already begun it in us. Salvation reveals itself as already being ours in our desire and request for it. Let us say it with Jonah: “Salvation is of the Lord.” All of it is.